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Is Your District Doing Everything It Can to Address Your Employees’ Mental Health Needs?

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Is Your District Doing Everything It Can to Address Your Employees’ Mental Health Needs?

This summer, during MoASBO’s Vendor Appreciation luncheon, Dr. Shari Sevier, Director of Advocacy Missouri School Counselor Association, gave a Keynote Address entitled, “The Who, What, Where, How and When of Mental Health in our Schools”.  Having recently experienced a serious mental health concern myself, I know just how important this topic is and how critical it is to provide your employees (everyone for that matter) with as many effective tools and resources as necessary in an effort to help.

As Dr. Sevier pointed out, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the mental health of people of all ages, ethnicities, geographies and professions.  That said, I’m sure it is no surprise to you that school district teachers, staff and administrators have been impacted to a much greater degree than most other professions. 

Please consider the following statistics from the May 2021 CDC Foundation Report:

  • 27% of teachers self-reported symptoms consistent with clinical depression.
  • 37% of teachers self-reported symptoms consistent with clinical anxiety disorder.
  • More than half of teachers are considering leaving the field or retiring more now than before the pandemic.
  • Teachers are now twice as likely to experience difficulty focusing on work.
  • One of the significant factors influencing teachers lack of mental health is a lack of funding and/or resources.

While our first and foremost concern is for each of our employee’s health, there is no doubt that this strain on mental health also has a direct and indirect impact on the mental health of students and the district budget.

By introducing simple changes within your district and providing resources and training to teachers, staff and administrators to improve theirs and others’ mental health, the district can create a safer and healthier workplace and learning environment and experience significant savings in health-related costs and employee productivity. 

According to the 2021 Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 39% of their employer survey respondents indicated that they have made changes aimed at addressing their employees’ mental health needs since the emergence of COVID-19.

I am sure you and your staff are aware of many possible resources but it may be helpful to review the following to determine if there are other programs and services available that would be helpful to ensure your district is doing everything within its means to address your employees’ mental health needs:

  • Employee Health Insurance/Benefits - While there are limited exceptions to the Mental Health Parity requirement, it is very likely your district’s health plan provides your employees with mental health and substance use disorder coverage. It is important that your plan members are aware of those benefits and understand how to use them.
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – Many of you offer a standalone EAP to your employees that offers additional assistance for employees and their family members who are experiencing mental health or substance use challenges. For those of you who are, the most effective EAP programs are the programs that are offered from independent EAPs and not the ancillary EAP services that some life insurance carriers offer as a “value-added” benefit at no additional cost to the district.  (Like everything else, there are independent EAPs who are better than their peers so we strongly encourage a comprehensive review of these programs.)  In the long run, assuming the district promotes and effectively communicates to your teachers, staff and administrators the advantages of using the EAP services, the return on the district’s investment will likely be far superior to the benefits achieved via “free” EAPs.
  • Teledoc for Mental Health – It is very likely that your insurance company or third party administrator now offers virtual mental health services designed for those plan members who may be more comfortable utilizing virtual care.
  • Mental Health Training and Awareness Programs – Courses are available that are designed to help train staff members on how to identify co-workers who may be experiencing a mental health crisis and how to best approach those co-workers and address the topic.
  • Headspace for Educators (no cost) – Programs such as Headspace offer free access to primary-secondary teachers and support staff that are designed to help individuals build healthy mental health habits.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (no cost) – It is important that your employees be aware of all of their mental health resources especially in the darkest of hours. This toll-free number offers 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress.  For now, the number is 800.273.8255 but beginning in July 2022 there will be a three-digit number 9-8-8 just like there is a 9-1-1 number for other emergencies.  We encourage you to encourage your employees to add this number to their cell phone. 
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (no cost) – SAMHSA is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads offers a wide array of resources through their toll-free number and website.

If your district is interested in the promotion of overall well-being, then mental health, physical, financial and social well-being should be the four dimensions of focus. 

As you can see, there are many resources available from a multitude of different sources.  Your district’s employee benefit broker/consultant should be proactive in bringing all of these potential solutions to your attention for the district to decide which resources will fit best with your district’s needs and culture.  The best of the best advisors offer team members who are dedicated solely to helping your district promote well-being. 


Scott S. James
Vice President, an MMA Employee Health & Benefits Education Practice Leader